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May 6, 2018

BehindTheMedspeak: Is it dangerous if you accidentally wake a sleepwalker?


That was the question posed in C. Claiborne Ray's "Q&A" column in the April 3, 2007 New York Times Science section.

The answer follows.


"The short answer is no," said Dr. Charles Pollock, director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, but it depends on circumstances.

"Is it a child or an adult?" Dr. Pollack asked. "It is not especially dangerous to wake a sleepwalker, except that in the throes of sleep, a person is groggy and risks a fall. Be sure to supervise him until he returns to quiet sleep."

Awareness of surroundings varies, Dr. Pollack said, but some sleepwalkers can perform fairly complex acts like turning door handles and unlatching locks. Some can pick their way over objects strewn on the floor.

"In studies where brain waves are recorded during sleepwalking, there is some degree of the persistence of sleep during the act," he said. "They are not fully aware, and there is impairment of perception, judgment and certainly of recall. They don't recall what happened while sleepwalking."

As for risks from, rather than to, a sleepwalker, there are none in particular, Dr. Pollack said. He emphasized that the actions of sleepwalkers were not known to be out of character with what they would do if they were awake.

"The personality persists," he said. "The person is still himself, but has lost critical awareness, the ability to make judgments and, perhaps, inhibit actions, as if intoxicated."


Illustration up top by the sublime Victoria Roberts.

May 6, 2018 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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